Drug Education Blog

Drug education should produce citizens

Posted October 04, 2011 by Dan Reist

Drug education, like so many other forms of education, has been influenced by a deeply engrained atomism. We teach individual facts to individual students to influence individual behaviours in order to build up a healthy social world. But it doesn’t work. The world is not like that. Just as language is not built up from single words, knowledge is not built up from disconnected facts.

Instead of focussing on individual health behaviours, maybe we need to help students reflect on the social whole. As students explore and interpret the world of which they are a part, they will build the literacy (knowledge and skills) needed to function in that world.

‘That world’ refers to our physical world, which happens to contain all kinds of psychoactive plants. Human beings have experimented with these plants for millennia and have found nutritional, spiritual, medical and social uses for them. We have also discovered their negative potential. And the tendency is sometimes to focus on the negative while downplaying or in other ways “hiding” the positive, as if the positive doesn’t count for anything.

The goal of education should not be to control access to information but, rather, to increase the capacity of students to function as informed, caring members of the community. So drug education is not about delivering highly controlled messages about drugs. Rather, it’s about exposing students to the repository of cultural knowledge about drugs. It should encourage them to reflect on different experiences not only so that they can make more informed choices, but so that they can better understand and support people in the community who make other choices. Drug education should produce citizens who advocate for social policies that promote equity and address the determinants of harm.

This is what we are attempting with our iMinds learning resources. For example, the revised Grade 7 module is designed to supplement Introduction to Social Studies 7. Students explore the role of psychoactive plants in the cultures of ancient peoples and use this to understand, and build navigational skills related to, their own world. On a similar note, in the Grade 9 module, students are introduced to short stories about children in different parts of the modern world whose lives are influenced in various ways by alcohol or other drugs. These different stories, each intellectually and emotionally engaging, broaden the students’ understanding of the issues and increase their capacity to navigate and shape the world in which drugs are present.

A comprehensive approach to health promotion involves influencing health actions, health capacities and health opportunities. Drug education has tended to focus on promoting particular health actions. But “education” is better suited to health literacy (one aspect of health capacities) and facilitating the development of citizens equipped to help build healthy communities.

Check out the revised iMinds modules as well as our promising practices for drug education. Sign up for email or Twitter alerts. We welcome your comments or related stories.



Deborah wrote:
25 Apr 2012
  Good job
Denny wrote:
02 Apr 2012
  I don't know where you are located but I know Cal State East Bay has a good Health Science parrogm with a couple of options. Health administration and Health Education. San Francisco State University has a Health Education Degree but its not called Health Science.
Margaretta wrote:
14 Feb 2012
  That adrdseses several of my concerns actually.


Name (required)

Email (required)

Enter the code shown above:

About this Blog

This blog is managed by the Knowledge Exchange team at CARBC. Articles are selected to support the application of comprehensive school health approach in addressing substance use in K-12 schools in British Columbia.

If you would like to submit an article for publication in this blog, please send it to helpingschools@carbc.ca.